Aja Romano wrote in Vox: “No song more perfectly embodies these characteristics than Girls’ Generation’s 2009 hit “Gee,” a breakout success that came at a moment when K-pop was starting to turn heads internationally due to a number of recent milestone hits — notably Big Bang’s “Haru, Haru,” Wonder Girls’ “Nobody,” and Brown Eyed Girls’ “Abracadabra.” “Gee” was a viral internet earworm, breaking out of typical K-pop fan spaces and putting Girls’ Generation within striking distance of US fame. [Source: Aja Romano, Vox, February 26, 2018]

“The combination of cheeky, colorful concept, clever choreography, cute girls, and catchy songwriting makes “Gee” the quintessential K-pop song: It’s fun, infectious, and memorable — and it was all but algorithmically produced by a studio machine responsible for delivering perfect singing, perfect dancing, perfect videos, and perfect entertainment. The then-nine members of Girls’ Generation were factory-assembled into the picture-perfect, male-gaze-ready dolls you see in the song’s music video via extreme studio oversight and years of hard work from each woman — a combined 52 years of training in total, beginning in their childhoods.

Teresa Cerojano of Associated Press wrote: “The success is not by accident. South Korea has developed an entire industry to take attractive actors and singers and turn them into larger-than-life stars, carefully managing their look and every move. The polished productions caught on elsewhere, and a few bands such as TVXQ and 2PM are now being created with overseas markets partly in mind. The music is modeled on American and European pop, said University of the Philippines professor George Fabros, who taught in South Korea in the 1990s, but with crisper performances and flashy hair colors and fashion that appeals to Asian youth. "They train for years before their debut, and for every album they have different concepts so you won't get bored with them," said Daren Lazaro, a 20-year-old management student in Manila. For some, it is also easy to identify with stars and story lines from another Asian culture. The downside may be a stifling of individual creativity, but the TV ratings, DVD sales and screaming fans at K-pop concerts show it's a formula that works.” [Source: Teresa Cerojano, Associated Press, September 21, 2011]

K-Pop Marketing

Choe Sang-Hun wrote in the New York Times: “K-pop stars frequently are the faces for top South Korean brands in television commercials, and Psy fronts for a range of products, from Hite beer and Samsung refrigerators to a line of cosmetics for men called Man’s Balm. [Source: Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, August 9, 2013]

Sun Jung, Research Fellow at National University of Singapore (NUS), who’s been studying the emergence of Korean culture in Asia since 2003, told CNBC.com: it’s no surprise the K-pop phenomenon is growing so rapidly globally, because social media has made the music more accessible. “People can share, distribute and consume foreign pop cultures much more easily these days,” Jung said. “It’s very significant how Korean language K-pop is popular somewhere like South America and European countries. Internet and social media technology kind of enhance those flows.” [Source: Rajeshni Naidu-Ghelani, CNBC.com, July 16, 2012]

Rajeshni Naidu-Ghelani wrote in CNBC.com: “Online social networks are the biggest medium that K-pop fans around the world use to follow their favorite bands. According to a report by YouTube, K-Pop video clips were viewed nearly 2.3 billion times in 235 countries in 2011. The views have jumped three-fold since 2010. K-pop’s similarities to American pop, hip hop, R&B and European electronic music genres makes it more appealing to Western audiences as the bands start to target global audiences, according to NUS’s Jung. “It actually is rooted in the Western pop genre, but at the same time the Korean pop industry brought that Western pop element into Korea and localized and made it something unique by mixing it with other elements,” she said. “Seoul based Sean Yang, CEO of music service provider Soribada which started distributing K-pop to iTunes and Amazon in 2009, says demand for the music really started picking in 2011. “If you look at the past six months, K-pop sales in iTunes have tripled,” Yang said. “We’re seeing very rapid growth recently.”

“On the economic front, K-pop’s growth abroad is proving to live up to South Korea’s reputation as a top global exporter. Choon Keun Lee, General Director at KOCCA says K-pop exports are having a positive effect in increasing the overall exports of consumer goods. “It has been researched that for every US$100 of K-Pop exports, there was an average increase of US$395 worth of I.T. goods such as cell phones or electronics that were being exported,” Lee said. K-Pop is becoming an iconic representation of Korea, along with mobile phones and Internet technology.”

Jung Ha-Won of AFP: “Music videos and footage of the stars' private lives are posted on Facebook and YouTube — often live or before being released on TV and elsewhere. "Korean acts are not only monitoring but also monetizing their Twitter trends, Facebook likes, and YouTube views," said Bernie Cho, president of DFSB Kollective, a Seoul-based creative agency providing digital media solutions to more than 350 K-pop artists. "More Korean bands have multilingual members who can sing verses, carry choruses, and conduct interviews in English, Chinese, and Japanese. Language is no longer a barrier, it is now the carrier." "They've got the sound right, they've got a supportive government that invests very heavily into the development of the arts, and they are all very good looking," said Ruuben van den Heuvel, executive director of GateWay Entertainment, a music consultancy firm. "They're a complete pop package."[Source: Jung Ha-Won, AFP, June 23, 2013]

K-Pop and Hallyu Take Over Asia

By the early 2010s, K-Pop and Hallyu culture in the form of TV dramas, fashion and cosmetics had become dominate in Asia, taking a large market share away from American and Hollywood pop culture and fashion. Reporting from Manila, Teresa Cerojano of Associated Press wrote:” Kins Wu knows what she's looking for as she sifts through hair color samples at a Manila branch of a Korean salon. "I want the same brown, but slightly blonde color, as Sandara's hair," the 22-year-old Filipino hotel worker tells her sister, referring to Korean girl band singer Sandara Park. [Source: Teresa Cerojano, Associated Press, September 21, 2011]

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak ranks the overseas success of "K-pop" among his country's top achievements, and the government operates a "Korean Wave" index to gauge the fever for its cultural exports. Taiwan took the top spot in 2010, nudging out Japan. China, Thailand and Vietnam are also on the list, and the state-funded Korea Foundation for International Culture Exchange says Malaysia will be added this year and the Philippines, as early as 2012. "The Republic of Korea is making young people all around the world wild with K-pop," Lee said in an Aug. 15 speech marking Korea's liberation from Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule.

“Almost all the leading drama channels in Taiwan show at least two South Korean soap operas a day at peak evening hours, and music video programs carry the latest on the K-pop scene. Screaming fans pack K-pop concerts in Thailand, waving homemade, backlit support signs, and Korean stars endorse products aimed at children and youths, from candy to scooters.

Christine Rodriguez, a 24-year-old social media analyst in Manila, gets together with friends once or twice a month for "noraebang," as karaoke is called in Korean. That they don't speak the language doesn't stop them from singing in it and mimicking the dance moves of boy band TVXQ. They often end the night at the Korean restaurant next door, where they snack on "gimbap" rice rolls and "ddeokbokki" rice cakes, popular street foods often seen on South Korean dramas. Rodriguez belongs to a TVXQ fan club that has 1,000 members and is one of more than 40 clubs that participated in the second annual Philippine K-pop Convention last year. The event drew 5,000 people, and more than 60,000 "like" its Facebook page. That's a leap from the 50 or so K-pop fans Rodriguez said she would meet in online chat forums and email groups in 2001.

Miki Acuna, a 21-year-old nursing graduate from Manila, has traveled to Thailand and New York to catch TVXQ concerts. She said she likes the way the singers sound, move, look and dress, and the slick packaging by their promoters. "The youth today are looking for spunk, the new look," said Schedar Jocson, a University of the Philippines lecturer who has written a paper on K-pop's influence in his country. "They are looking for their own niche or their own identity," he said, and both the TV shows and pop music give them something more expressive and experimental than homegrown alternatives.

Asian Stars Copy K-Pop Look and Sound

Reporting from Singapore, Jocelyn Lee wrote in The Straits Times: “As if Korean pop stars do not have enough competition from their own countrymen in the crowded entertainment industry, they now have to contend with Mandopop singers who are copying their look and sound. More and more Taiwan-based stars are repackaging themselves in the mold of their Korean counterparts — singing fast infectious tunes with sleek dance moves complete with more adventurous styling. [Source: Jocelyn Lee, The Straits Times, May 2, 2011]

“The record labels of Taiwanese boy band Sigma and Singapore talents Derrick Hoh and Jocie Guo sent them to Korea to learn from dance choreographers for their new albums. Hoh also sought the expertise of Korean boy band Shinee's stylist for his second album Change, released this year. In addition, Taiwanese artists are also collaborating with Korean stars to incorporate Korean pop elements into their songs. Wilber Pan recruited Nichkhun from Korean boy band 2PM to feature in his new song, Drive, from his newly released album, 808. Danson Tang worked with Amber from Korean girl group f(x) for his song "I'm Back," released last year.

Industry insiders admit they are riding on the surge of the Korean pop wave. James Kang, marketing director of Warner Music, which manages Hoh and Guo, says: "Taiwan has long been the place that Chinese artists go to for their training. However, over the years, we have seen increasingly similar dance moves in the hordes of artists that emerge from there every year. Therefore, training in Korea injects fresh elements into Derrick and Jocie's appeal. "Korean acts are known for their sleek dance moves and interesting choreography. Sending our artists to train there helps achieve something that is out of the box for the Chinese music industry." He cites as examples the "hot and highly synchronized dance moves complete with trademark movements" of Brown Eyed Girls' "Abracadabra" and Super Junior's "Sorry Sorry." Derek Shih, marketing director of HIM International Music, agrees that Korean dance moves are outstanding, "which is why we decided to tap on their skills and professionalism to come up with the dance moves for our new boy band, Sigma."

Korean Pop Culture Big in Remote Indian State of Manipur

When separatist rebels in the remote Indian state of Manipur banned Hindi movies in 2000 who would have ever thought it would trigger a cultural invasion from South Korea. AFP reported: “But when Bollywood was forced out, the Koreans moved in. In the markets of the state capital Imphal, shops are packed with DVDs of South Korean films and television soap operas, as well as CDs of Korean pop stars, with a particular focus on preening boy bands. Hairdressing salons are covered with head shots of Korean celebrities and offer a wide range of spiky, “Korean-style” cuts which are hugely popular with young Manipuris of both sexes. Teenagers also trawl through Gambhir Market, a three-story warren of tiny boutiques, for skinny jeans and other clothing trends inspired by Korean television shows. [Source: AFP, May 9, 2011]

“Even the language has made inroads, with Korean phrases like annyeong-haseyo (hello), kamsahamnida (thank you) and sarang-haeyo (I love you) peppering conversations in schoolyards and market-places. “When we're back at boarding school, my friends and I practice our few phrases of Korean and often talk about what it would be like growing up in Korea,” said female student Akshaya Longjam, 14. “It just seems so much fun and everybody is good-looking; the girls are pretty and the boys are so cute,” said Longjam, a dedicated fan of the Korean boy band Big Bang and its star singer G-Dragon.

“At first glance, Manipur would seem the unlikeliest of takers for the so-called “Korean Wave” of pop culture that swept over China, Japan and much of Southeast Asia at the beginning of the last decade. Tiny, landlocked and with a population of less than three million, Manipur borders Myanmar and is one of India's “Seven Sisters” – seven northeastern states connected to the rest of India by a sliver of land that arches over Bangladesh. In the 1970s, 80s and 90s, entertainment for Manipuris was largely supplied by India's dominant cultural force, Bollywood.

“But then in 2000, a number of the multiple armed secessionist groups that have been active in Manipur since the 1960s ordered a ban on Hindi movies and Hindi satellite TV channels, in a professed bid to “protect” Manipuri culture. “Korea's KBS World followed with its own stable of subtitled soap operas and, within a few months, Manipur was hooked. “Watching Korean soaps and films takes me away from the realities of daily life in Manipur,” said 19-year-old college student Soma Lhishram. “We have a problem with water, electricity, roads... you name it. But everything looks so perfect in Korea. It's like a fantasy world.” The attraction is partly a cultural one. The Mongol roots of ethnic Manipuris mean their physical features are far closer to those of Koreans than other Indians.

How K-Pop Became So Successful in Asia

Rajeshni Naidu-Ghelani wrote in CNBC.com: “Indonesian Marcia Tianadi started listening to South Korean pop music last November after being introduced to the genre known as “K-pop” by a friend. The 20-year-old finance student, who doesn’t understand the South Korean language, now listens to K-pop more than any other type of music including Western pop, which used to be her favorite. Despite the release of English versions of several K-pop songs, Tianadi says she prefers the Korean version even though she doesn’t understand most of the lyrics. She is one of millions of K-pop fans around the world who aren’t letting a language barrier stand in the way of consuming what is becoming a major global powerhouse in the music scene. [Source: Rajeshni Naidu-Ghelani, CNBC.com, July 16, 2012]

“With their synthesized bubble-gum pop sound, flashy outfits and video art, K-pop groups such as Girls’ Generation, Big Bang and 2NE1 are carefully-selected, slickly-produced acts that can feature as many as 17 members. These “manufactured” girl and boy bands are creating a frenzy among their young fans by selling out concerts within minutes worldwide, breaking through billboard music charts and even being featured on postage stamps in Korea. The industry’s revenues hit about US$3.4 billion in 2011, according to the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA), a government group that promotes the country’s cultural initiatives. K-pop’s exports also rose to US$180 million last year — jumping 112 percent compared to 2010. Exports have been growing on an average annual rate of nearly 80 percent since 2007.

“The executive manager of one of South Korea’s biggest K-pop production companies, who wished to remain anonymous, says producers try to recruit international artists to broaden their fan base. “There’s a Thai guy in 2PM, he’s really popular in Thailand. We have other nationalities practicing on the road,” the former musician said. “Lately we’ve been recording in English, Korean and Japanese for them, we really try to release one for every market.”

“Thai native Tan Somboonsub, 31, who’s been following Korean television dramas and music for the past 10 years, says the K-pop sound has transformed in the past decade. “The rhythm, the sound — there’s a lot more sound engineering involved,” Somboonsub, who performs K-pop songs, said. Dance routines by groups like nine-member Girls’ Generation, is also a big hit among fans. Somboonsub says she’s visited Seoul to watch the weekend “street dance” by thousands to choreographed K-pop songs. Internationally, dance studios in Singapore for example offer classes that teach K-pop moves.

Korea Overtake Japan in the Pop Culture Wars

Euny Hong wrote in Quartz: “Once, Japanese movies, videogames, and pop music were all the rage. But now, the epicenter of Asian pop culture has moved 700 miles (1000km) westward, from Japan to Korea. And no, it didn’t start with Gangnam Style. Check out this Google Trends chart, which shows the number of Google user searches for the term “K-pop” versus searches for “J-pop”, from 2004 to the present. K-pop searches began to skyrocket fully two years before Gangnam Style’s July 2012 debut: As for music revenue, South Korea’s upswing goes against the negative trends in Japan and the world as a whole: [Source: Euny Hong, Quartz, November 16, 2012]

“Furthermore, from 2010 to 2011, South Korea’s videogame exports increased 37,7 percent, according to Korea.net, and foreign rights for Korean films increased 14 percent, according to the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism. Not too shabby, considering that South Korea’s per capita GDP as of 2011 (US$22,424) is less than half that of Japan (US$45,870).

“Japan’s pop-culture dominance is hurting, and not just in music. Sanrio, the Japanese company that invented Hello Kitty, had a sales slump from 1999 to 2010 and is trying to bring in new characters to reduce its reliance on Hello Kitty. The Japanese film industry suffered greatly from the decline of Anime. As for the once dominant videogaming industry–well, it’s not a good sign when one of Japan’s top game designers (Keiji Inafune, creator of Mega Man) announces, “Our game industry is finished.”

One reason for South Korea’s success and Japan’s decline is “Japanese are nutty for Korean pop culture, and have pretty much voluntarily ceded the tastemaker role to South Korea. An important reason behind K-pop’s success, even in Japan’s home turf, is that Korean music labels embrace YouTube as a way of popularizing their songs. By contrast, in the words of a Japan Today article, “Unlike their Korean pop equivalents, most Japanese labels are allergic to promoting their artists’ work abroad.” South Korea, meanwhile, has seized upon music marketing over the Internet (aided by the world’s fastest broadband.)”

Why it Was So Easy for Korea to Overtake Japan in the Pop Culture Wars

Euny Hong wrote in Quartz: “Why is Japan’s cultural influence waning? Reason 1: These days, Japan makes stuff mostly for Japan. Japanese pop culture, like the Japanese archipelago itself, is too isolated from the rest of the world to have remained a sustainable global influence. This is evidenced by the neologism “Japan Galapagos Syndrome,” which compares Japan to the South American island that has its own species and ecology. In 2010, Japanese electronics company Sharp launched a tablet in Japan that was initially sold nowhere else in the world, appropriately called the Galapagos tablet. Similarly, many of Japan’s videogames are for the Japanese market only. [Source: Euny Hong, Quartz, November 16, 2012]

“Some say the problem is Japan’s reluctance to learn English and its negative population growth. Others point out that Japan, whose population is 127.8 million, is a huge enough consumer market as it is, and Japanese retailers don’t feel the need to take the huge risk of launching an overseas marketing campaign. (South Korea’s population is less than half that, at 49.8 million). Ironic, given that it was Korea, not Japan, that was once dubbed “the Hermit Kingdom” by frustrated Western conquistadors in days of yore.

“Reason 2: Korean culture is puritanical–and for global spread, that’s a good thing. Despite what you see in Korean movies, sexual repression in everyday South Korea is enforced to an annoying degree. A female Korean-American friend of mind recalls not being allowed to attend slumber parties as a child, because, “You don’t sleep at another person’s house until you are married.” When I’m with my parents, who live in Seoul, I am still expected to walk out of the room if we’re watching a movie with a sex scene, even though I’ve been an adult for quite a long time. They still won’t let me take taxis at night because they’re worried I’ll be kidnapped.

“Weirdly, a lot of Western parents can relate to, and even envy, such concerns. If a somewhat conventional culture like the U.S. is going to accept a foreign pop trend, it has to have palatable morals, and overprotectiveness is an appealing one. Japan is a different story. It, too, is sexually repressed, but it’s not puritanical. Take the J-pop band AKB48 (so named because the band has 48 members). They frequently wear school uniforms while performing, and their songs have lyrics like “My school uniform is getting in the way.” A song like that would be banned in Korea. In Korea, by contrast, schoolgirl uniforms are only worn… for school. And they have much longer skirts than do their Japanese counterparts. Japanese girl idols are expected to publish photobooks, consisting of pin-up style pictures. The Guardian wrote that such books “will invariably feature a selection of bikini shots shot on beaches in Hawaii…Sales of photobooks are so brisk that they have their own charts.”

“Meanwhile, Korean culture protects childhood innocence at any price. Which means that even if the K-pop idols are of age, they can’t appear in a spread that would be inappropriate for their child fans. Patrick St. Michel noted in our sister publication the Atlantic that K-pop bands “aren’t glimmering examples of feminism, but at least they look and act like grown women.” An example of a somewhat grown-up K-pop girl band is the nine-member Girls’ Generation, recently featured in The New Yorker. And for what it’s worth, the K-pop boy acts (Rain, Super Junior, Big Bang) were popular exports before the girl bands ever were. I hope this means that the popularity of K-pop has to do with general appeal and not just some submissive fantasy of Asian women.

“Reason 3: Because Americans are seen as the heroes of the Korean War, South Korea has been closely influenced by US pop culture. Japan, less so. Despite some grumbling, South Korea still sees the U.S. as its protectors during the Korean War (1950-1953). The U.S. continues to maintain an enormous military presence in South Korea–some 30,000 –and this has had a powerful effect on South Korean music tastes. Several generations of South Koreans grew up hearing American pop on American Forces Network television and radio, and US soldiers’ tastes created the demand for American music to be sold in shops and played in night clubs. Perhaps this is why the K-pop sound is much more US-influenced than J-pop is, particularly with the K-pop’s predilection for R and B, hip-hop, and rap. The K-pop sound, therefore, has a familiar ring to a worldwide audience raised on American pop.

K-Pop Culture Becomes a Worldwide Phenomena

Initially it was thought that, yeah, K-Pop may be big in Asia but it will never become big in the West. Andrew Salmon wrote in Forbes: “While the pretty boys and girls of K-pop enjoy enormous popularity around Asia, that has not been replicated in lucrative Western markets. "K-pop can be a niche, but I don't think it will break through in the West. They try too hard, they are too rigid," says Daniel Tudor, author of Korea: The Impossible Country. "I feel that K-pop is too controlled; the big companies see music too much as a product." [Source: Andrew Salmon, Forbes, July 31, 2013]

The first breakthrough was Psy’s hit “Gangnam Style in 2012. Euny Hong wrote in Quartz: “If you dismiss Gangnam Style’s popularity as just a freak meme, you do so at your own peril. As World Bank President Jim Yong Kim pointed out in a recent interview, Korean rapper Psy is a late-appearing symptom of South Korea’s ambition to be the world’s pop culture factory. South Korean soap operas, music, and junk food already dominate the Asian cultural scene, and its westward expansion is a foregone conclusion. Case in point: the hit TV show Glee will be performing Gangnam Style on an episode to air in November.” [Source: Euny Hong, Quartz, November 16, 2012]

Hideo Shinada of Nikkei Entertainment wrote: South Korea's entertainment industry has achieved great success overseas, in part out of necessity: The country's small domestic market means producers and entertainers are forced to focus on foreign markets from the start. Japan is the top export destination, accounting for 30 percent, followed by China (27 percent), Southeast Asia (19 percent) and North America (11 percent). In music, "Gangnam Style" by Psy reached the top of the pop charts worldwide, while the groups Girls' Generation and Bigbang have grown popular enough to launch world tours. The music used in the Microsoft Surface commercial is by girl group 2NE1. South Korean entertainment has made a global name for itself through a business model that combines online and live performances. [Source: Hideo Shinada, Nikkei Entertainment, January 8, 2015]

“The collapse of the domestic CD market” around 2000 “prompted industry players to look beyond the country's borders, according to YG Entertainment CEO Yang Ming-suk. Downloading services that boast lower per-tune fees than Apple's iTunes have become popular in South Korea. "I feared all talent agencies and record companies would go bankrupt," Yang said. This sense of crisis was one of the driving forces behind the push to develop overseas markets.

“The preparation has been solid. Industry players actively used the video site YouTube and social media to increase the popularity and moved to large-scale concerts so that they can monetize quickly. Language education is one focus, particularly teaching entertainers to speak Japanese so they can do well in their performances and marketing activities in Japan. The 12-man group Exo, managed by SM Entertainment, also has Chinese-speaking members, which has helped make the group even more popular in China.

K-Pop Conquers Europe

Euny Hong wrote in Quartz: “For some reason, 15,000 people gathered at Rome’s Piazza del Popolo on Nov. 10 for a flash mob Gangnam Style dance. And at the MTV Italy awards in May, K-pop boy band Big Bang won the “Best Fan” award, whatever that is. Pucca, the oddly-drawn South Korean cartoon, achieved popularity in Europe years before Walt Disney bought the production rights and brought her to the US. [Source: Euny Hong, Quartz, November 16, 2012]

“Europeans, and particularly the French, love Korean pop culture with a frenzy. Part of this may be because the K-pop sound has–in addition to the aforementioned American influences–elements of big band Europop, and is redolant of old French Eurovision acts like France Gall. K-pop bands are so popular in France that in April 2011, tickets for a multi-band K-pop concert sold out in 15 minutes, and days later, thousands of French people protested in front of the Louvre to demand a repeat performance. The story made the front page of both Le Monde and Le Figaro.

“That said, Koreaphilia in France began not with music, but with film. The French have always been easily open to multiculturalism when it came to cinema, and they embraced the raw emotion of Korean “revenge” movies like Palme d’Or winner Oldboy—whose plot probably seemed familiar to the French, as it was based loosely on Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. These days, I know a number of Parisian filmgoers who have a standing policy of seeing every new Korean movie that comes out, just as they used to see every Woody Allen before he started making crap.”

K-Pop Spreads to Latin America

Dani Madrid-Morales of City University of Hong Kong wrote: The popularity of South Korean popular culture in Spanish-speaking countries is on the rise. In April 2013, some 13,000 fans attended a concert in Lima by South Korean group Super Junior In November of the same year, another band, Big Bang, drew a crowd of 14,000 in Peru and then a similar number in neighbouring Chile (Briceno, 2013). [Source: Dani Madrid-Morales, ‘Transatlantic connection’: K-pop and K-drama fandom in Spain and Latin America,” City University of Hong Kong, 2014]

Jung Ha-Won of AFP wrote: “News of the arrival of South Korean boyband JYJ prompted hundreds of fans to camp out on the streets recently to get closer to the trio. But this wasn't in Seoul or even Tokyo: it was in Lima. Having taken Asia by storm over the past decade with bubblegum hooks and dance moves infused with military precision, South Korea's K-pop phenomenon continues to defy language barriers and find fans around the world. As South Korea continues to export its culture, K-pop's polished fusion of influences ranging from hip-hop to dubstep is winning a growing number of passionate followers in Latin America. JYJ has held sellout concerts there and a Colombian TV station is airing a K-pop talent show. [Source: Jung Ha-Won, AFP, June 23, 2013]

“Latin American fans have posted hundreds of videos on YouTube showing flash mobs emulating K-pop dance moves and urging their favourite stars to visit the continent, despite many not having officially released songs outside Asia. Promoters are using the power of the Internet to lure distant fans and organise concerts in Europe and North and South America. JYJ in March performed in both Chile and Peru as part of a world tour of 15 venues including Berlin and Barcelona. Hundreds camped out for days in Santiago and Lima as they tried to get closer to the trio during their first concerts in the region, said June Oh, a spokeswoman for the band's agent C-JeS. "We were so stunned seeing hundreds of tents lined up in front of the Explanada Sur del Estadio Monumental," she told AFP, referring to the venue in the Peruvian capital where JYJ performed.

“Savvy marketing and production tie-ups have also helped. JYJ broke away from another K-pop act TVXQ in 2009 and the following year released an English-language album in collaboration with US rap star Kanye West. "Since then we started to get more fan letters from Latin America and to see more Spanish-language sites (dedicated to JYJ). Now they are the most active and passionate ones in the band's global fan base," Oh said. She acknowledged that attendance at the concerts — 5,000 in Chile and 6,000 in Peru — was small compared to the tens of thousands whom JYJ attracts in South Korea or Japan. "But it's too early to try to stage such a mega-concert in Latin America," she said.

JYJ member Kim Junsu has described the response to the Latin American concerts as "utterly surprising, and the most enthusiastic". Colombian TV network Caracol has since April aired a talent show for K-pop fans. Winners were offered a six-day trip to Seoul to meet their idols. Some 2,000 participants from across the country sang and danced to the songs of K-pop bands such as Big Bang and 2NE1, with South Korean boyband U-KISS acting as a judge by watching video clips. Song Chang-Woon, PR manager of South Korea's Arirang TV which has partnered with Caracol, acknowledged K-pop's popularity in Latin America is still limited to a relatively small circle of young devotees. "But our partners in Caracol TV certainly saw potential and wanted to test the market with 'K-pop reality'," he told AFP, referring to the show also being aired on South Korea's Arirang TV station this month.

K-Music, a Colombian music cable channel, has also started to air a K-pop music segment imported from Arirang, Song said. Typical K-pop stars — trained since early or mid-teens — offer a mix of good looks, powerful choreography and accessible tunes that give an alternative to Latin America's music scene, he said. "The K-pop boom has just landed in Latin America and there's no way back from here," said Song.

K-Pop in Latin America

Dani Madrid-Morales of City University of Hong Kong wrote: “ On YouTube, K-pop videos with lyrics translated into Spanish get millions of views. Furthermore, according to a recent study, in 2013, the number of online fan groups in the Americas totalled 464, up from 377 in 2012 (Korea Foundation, 2013). [Source: Dani Madrid-Morales, ‘Transatlantic connection’: K-pop and K-drama fandom in Spain and Latin America,” City University of Hong Kong, 2014]

“While in the late 1990s the Korean Wave rose somewhat ‘spontaneously’” in Asia, “a more calculated process has taken place in Latin America, where Korean institutions have used popular culture as a tool for promotion. In 2008, the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) was created to help the promotion of television content, video games and other cultural industries. KOCCA’s foundational goals were to turn Korea into a global cultural superpower (Chun, 2011). In Central and Latin America a more direct approach was taken by another agency, the Korea Foundation

“Changes in the global television market and low selling costs were some of the main factors in the dissemination and growth in popularity of K-drama across Latin America. Can this also be said about K-pop and the music industry? A short answer would be: yes. In many aspects K-pop has followed similar processes as K-drama, meaning that a period of sharp internal competition was followed by a period of aggressive international campaign in which commercial profitability became one of the main imperatives of the industry.

“Of these, 125 million came from Spanish-speaking countries (Seo, 2012, p. 62), indicating that Latin America has, in many respects, become a hot zone for Kpop. Concerts by South Korean groups draw crowds in the thousands and, even a major broadcaster as Caracol TV in Colombia has started airing K-pop talent shows (Trivedi, 2013)

“Catchy and upbeat songs, well designed online marketization, visually attractive dance choreographies have all been used to explain the success of K-pop globally. Latin America should not be an exception. On top of these, it is arguable that South Korean music companies are keen on tapping into newer regions, as its market share seems to be narrowing in East and South East Asian markets. Throughout 2013, concerts have been cancelled in countries such as Thailand and Singapore for low ticket sales or budgetary constraints (J. Kim, 2013; Lent, 2013)

K-Pop Fans in Latin America

Dani Madrid-Morales of City University of Hong Kong wrote: The core of the article is the reporting of results from an online survey distributed to over 500 Latin American and Spanish fans in 12 countries. The demographic portrait of K-pop and K-drama fans in Spanish-speaking countries that comes out of our survey confirms that the vast majority of fans are female (94.5 percent) and that male account for a small fraction (5,4 percent). The average age is 21.41 (21.42 for female and 21.48 for male), the youngest respondent being 11 and the oldest 56. The largest group is that of 18 to 25 years olds (54.8 percent), followed by those under 18 (27.7 percent) and then the 26 to 35 years old group (14 percent). The young age of most of respondents seems to determine other demographic variables [Source: Dani Madrid-Morales, ‘Transatlantic connection’: K-pop and K-drama fandom in Spain and Latin America,” City University of Hong Kong, 2014]

“A large majority are single (93 percent), are currently studying (70.7 percent), live with their family (90.6 percent) and have a monthly income of 300 euros or less (66.2 percent). In terms of racial composition, fans surveyed report being predominantly Hispanic (74.4 percent) or Caucasian (14.4 percent), and only residual figures were recorded for Asian (1.5 percent), Black (1.7 percent) and other groups (7.7 percent). This internal demographic homogeneity occurs despite the fact that there is considerable geographic dispersion, with 23 countries accounted for when participants were asked about their nationality, Mexico is the most populated country in Latin America and also accounts for the highest number of people surveyed (17.3 percent, n = 94). Argentina and Venezuela come second (11.6 percent, n = 63)

“In terms of cultural consumption habits, in 95 percent of the cases (n = 515) respondents report to have consumed K-pop regularly in the previous month. The preference for Asian cultural artefacts – particularly visual culture – over those coming from other countries is confirmed when looking at other responses. Those surveyed say to have watched Korean cinema (44.3 percent) or other Asian dramas (29.7 percent) over the course of the previous month, both of which are higher values than those reported for American (25.8 percent), Spanish (6.3 percent) and Latin American (14.9 percent) television shows, including soap operas. For musical products, a distinct predilection for Asian performers is less acute, as 36.2 percent report having listened to Western music, as opposed to 26.4 percent who had listened to J-pop and 3.5 percent who had listened to Cantopop or Mandopop over the previous month. Not only do respondents seem fond of Korean contemporary popular culture, but also they show interest in learning the language and visiting the country. One third of those surveyed say to be studying Korean (30.8 percent) and 65.1 percent chose Korean as the first language they would study if they could pick one. Only a very small fraction say to have visited South Korea (3.3 percent) but a large majority say they would like to visit (71.8 percent)

As for K-pop, the dominant majority of respondents consider it to be their favourite music genre (85.4 percent). They mostly access it using YouTube or similar services (96.9 percent). In fact, when asked how they first became interested in Kpop, 68 percent responded that this happened after watching a video online. As presumed, YouTube and the visual nature of idol bands seem to play an important role in the dissemination of Hallyu fandom. In addition, since the majority of fans have less than 100 euros at their disposal each month, it is only logical that free music download and general avoidance of online stores are prevalent among 81 percent of respondents

“We presented respondents with two lists of activities and asked them to select all those in which they had been involved in the previous 12 months. The activities were ranked from a low level of engagement (listening to music from a drama series or looking for information online about Kpop) to a high level (editing a video or taking part in the fansubbing process). Those who had searched information online accounted for 92.8 percent of the respondents, 83.3 percent discussed K-pop with friends, 33.8 percent danced choreographies with a group and 30.7 percent shared songs online. We then grouped these activities bay using a simplified version of Abercrombie’s audience continuum, which goes from consumer to producer, with three categories in between enthusiast, cultist and fan (Abercrombie, 1998). From the data it could be claimed that 46.4 percent Kpop respondents can be labelled as fans, defined as those who, within the context of relatively high media use become attached to certain stars or programmes; 27.8 percent as petty-producers, to whom enthusiasm is becoming an almost professionalized full-time activity; 21 percent as enthusiasts, that is, those who tend to interact with those that share their tastes, and 4.9 percent as consumers, whose interaction with the media can be described in a relatively generalized and unfocused fashion. For K-drama, figures are 10 percent consumers, 44 percent enthusiasts, 38.4 percent fans and 7.6 percent producers

“Reception and cultural decoding For an analysis of how fans decode and interpret K-drama and K-pop we presented them with a list of statements and asked them to rate their agreement on a scale from 1 (totally disagree) to 5 (totally agree). One of the characteristics attributed to the global success of Korean popular culture is its hybrid nature. We found, however, that the element of hybridity does not resonate well with those surveyed. We presented them with two similar statements about the relationship of K-pop to Western music: “K-pop is similar to European and American music” and “K-pop is a copycat of American and European music”. For the first one, the mean score was 2.31 and for the second one, 1.6. If we combine these with the score given to the statement “I equally like K-pop and American music” (M = 2.71), we could interpret that fans surveyed here appear to have a somewhat strong bias against Western music

“On the contrary, as it could be presumed, they have a very high standing of idols and their productions: agreement is high with statements about physical attractiveness of K-pop singers (M = 4.49), about the concern these artists have about their fans (M = 4.43) and the catchiness of songs (M = 4.54). These perceptions – and to a certain extent, admiration – extend beyond K-pop artists. High agreement values were recorded for statements asserting that Koreans have high moral standards (M = 4.30), are particularly polite (M = 4.41), have a high educational level (M = 4.55) and are well dressed (M = 4.41)

Male Hallyu Fans in Latin America

Dani Madrid-Morales of City University of Hong Kong wrote: As we have shown, the majority of K-pop and K-drama consumers are women. That is the reason why most works tend to concentrate on female identities. Males are either completely absent from the discourse or touched upon only marginally. However, fandom cannot be fully understood without understanding the full spectrum of the audience demography. The number of respondents is small (n = 29), but we nonetheless consider their responses to be illustrative examples of transnational – probably global – trends, which should be taken into account. For example, despite a high geographical dispersion of respondents (12 countries), there are still notable similarities between them: they are mostly single; they are younger than 25 and have a monthly available income of 100 euros or less. Further similarities come to light as our focus shifts from statistical to textual analysis. This section, that is, the analysis of self-narratives, is divided into three parts: perceptions about South Korean culture, social acceptance of Hallyu, and issues of gender and sexuality [Source: Dani Madrid-Morales, ‘Transatlantic connection’: K-pop and K-drama fandom in Spain and Latin America,” City University of Hong Kong, 2014]

“We begin with the examination of perceptions about South Korean culture. In their narratives, male respondents tend to idealize Korean culture and declare its ethical dominance. It is important to note here that despite their strong attitudes, none of the respondents has ever visited South Korea. Nonetheless, their praise often highlights Korean morality and, especially, a perceived general respect for elders. One respondent from Spain describes his love for South Korea by elaborating on what first triggered his interest: From 2001, I started to look into Asian countries and South Korea was the one that inspired me the most. The landscapes, the history and morality of people all got me addicted. Me, myself being Christian… here, the respect and the morality are being lost “It is a pity. I don’t know... It is a country that increasingly attracts me. I feel I am half Korean

“In addition, many stress Korea’s rich tradition, history, and good manners. One respondent illustrates this by saying how it strikes him that ‘they (Koreans) are so polite towards elderly people,’ while another respondent praises Korean society by saying that it is ‘superior to ours.’ In terms of social acceptance of Hallyu, fans we examined seem to have divided views. A majority feels that the rest of society looks down upon them, that they are judged for emulating Korean styles and criticized by their environment. However, most of the respondents show confidence in their own preferences and do not seem to be overly concerned about a perceived social awkwardness

“As far as the issues of gender and sexuality go, male respondents seem to be concerned with the fact that their liking for K-pop or K-drama are sometimes mistaken with their sexual preferences Namely, they report that individuals from their immediate environment often stigmatize and label them as ‘gay’ because they enjoy K-pop. One of them writes: ‘they are always criticizing me for listening to Chinese music. Koreans tend to have very feminine looks and my brother, who is very homophobic, is always telling me: “there you are, watching your Chinese gays.”’ Another respondent describes a similar experience by saying that ‘they think that Koreans are gay and presume that I am gay too.’ The issue of homosexuality also came up in discussing Hallyu fashion. One of the participants from Chile describes how Koreans have much higher beauty standards and compares that to his own culture: ‘in Chile, if you worry too much about your skin, your physical appearance or your clothing, they call you gay.’ He goes on to conclude that Chile has a long way to go but that it will eventually adapt and come closer to the standards of South Korea

“Conversely, it seems that some of the fans are attracted to Hallyu precisely because it is far less sexualized than similar products from the ‘West’. One respondent complains that K-pop is demeaned because ‘nowadays people only want sex and more sex. They don’t leave time for romance.’ Two other respondents voice a similar longing for the platonic love depicted in South Korean dramas. Their nostalgia corresponds, to some extent, to the sentiments voiced by middleaged female fans of Gyeoul yeonga/Winter Sonata in Japan (Mori, 2008). Preference for ‘good old days’ when love was more pure and capitalism less prevalent is something that these two otherwise dissimilar audience groups seem to have in common

K-Pop Steps Up Its Efforts to Break America

Girls' Generation, 2NE1, GD&TOP, JYJ, and Wonder Girls were among te first K-Pop groups to be promoted to American audiences. August Brown wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The nine young women of Girls' Generation sauntered onto the performance stage of "Late Show With David Letterman." Flanked by a DJ and live drummer, the South Korean pop group wore lacy black mini-dresses and thigh-high leather boots, as if they were hosting a goth cocktail party. It was a rare American network television performance from a South Korean music group. The band's gently lascivious choreography underscored the track's sex-appeal boasts: lead singer Kim Taeyeon made come-hither hand gestures while her bandmates pulled PG-13 versions of Lady Gaga's alien body bends. The song was in English, but the message was clear in any language. This was something new yet uncannily familiar on the American pop scene. [Source: August Brown, Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2012]

“Girls' Generation is arguably the biggest name in an effervescent, operatic Korean pop music culture that quietly has won a fervent fan base of young Korean Americans, and plenty of non-Koreans as well. ...The fan scene in America has been largely centered on major immigrant hubs like Los Angeles and New York, where Girls' Generation sold out Madison Square Garden with a crop of rising K-pop acts including BoA and Super Junior. But until very recently, due to the high cost of touring and marketing, fans' interaction with artists has been limited to Internet and social media.

"There's been a combination of distance and needing to go where it's lucrative. You could do two weeks in Japan and do better than a full U.S. tour," said David Zedeck, a CAA agent who handles American management of several K-pop groups including 2 AM, 2 PM and Wonder Girls. "But that's changing. Wonder Girls have spent two years living and working largely in America, and their tour with Jonas Brothers taught K-pop managers that American audiences are open to something that seems foreign. These are Americans coming to their shows, the same fans going to see Gaga and Bieber."

“Many of their U.S. fans are young, culture-mixing Asian Americans who maintain an interest in Korean pop culture, but are just as conversant in American pop. That some K-pop stars are actually American-born or raised, like Girls' Generation's Tiffany, influences their personalities and deepens their connection to U.S. audiences. "There were so many more opportunities in K-pop for a young Asian American singer," the 22-year-old Tiffany, born Stephanie Hwang, said. "It took some adjusting to move there in my teen years. But fans respected that this group wasn't put together overnight, it took a lot of practice to learn our different values and strengths."

"In the past, it was the norm to reach out to the Asian music market and/or the Korean communities abroad before reaching out worldwide," said Joon Ahn, executive vice president for the Music Business Division at CJ Entertainment & Media, one of the dominant media conglomerates in K-pop. "However, we believe that now … it's necessary to directly reach out to the world market."

But while K-pop has a lively Internet presence, America lacks a dominant media hub for first encountering K-pop culture....But some fans like Brooks don't want the genre's idiosyncrasies diluted for American audiences. "The last thing I'd want on a K-pop song is a Ludacris verse," he said. "I don't want it to become like harajuku culture in Japan, where the face of it here is Gwen Stefani." But if Girls' Generation can headline a sold-out Madison Square Garden as virtual unknowns to the American mainstream, K-pop may have already rendered that crossover question pointless. For artists with roots in both countries, K-pop's late rise in America (and what it means for Korean culture everywhere) is sweet but just the start. "Coming back to America to pursue music is a dream," Tiffany said. "Not just because it's America, but because this is just the beginning."

U.S. K-Pop Concert in 2012

John Seabrook wrote in The New Yorker: “It was five o’clock on a Sunday in May, two hours before showtime, but already thousands of K-pop fans had flooded the concrete playa outside the Honda Center, a large arena in Anaheim, California. Tonight’s performers were among the biggest pop groups in South Korea — SHINee, f(x), Super Junior, EXO, TVXQ!, and Girls’ Generation. In the United States, Korean pop music exists almost exclusively on YouTube, in videos like “Gangnam Style,” by Park Jae-sang, the rapper known as PSY, which recently went viral. The Honda Center show was a rare chance for K-pop fans to see the “idols,” as the performers are called, in the flesh. Outside the arena, clusters of fans were enacting dance covers: copies of their favorite idol groups’ moves. (PSY’s horse-riding dance, from “Gangnam Style,” may be the Macarena of the moment.) People carried light sticks and bunches of balloons, whose colors signified allegiance to one or another idol group. The crowd was older than I’d expected, and the ambience felt more like a video-game convention than like a pop concert. About three out of four people were Asian-American, but there were also Caucasians of all ages, and a number of black women. [Source: John Seabrook, The New Yorker, October 8, 2012]

“The first group to take the stage in Anaheim was SHINee, a boy band. The boys were fun to watch — heavily made-up and moussed male androgynes doing strenuous rhythmic dances. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there is no way that a K-pop boy group will make it big in the States. The degree of artistic styling is much more Lady Gaga than Justin Bieber. Perhaps there is an audience of ten-to-twelve-year-old girls who could relate to these guys, but there’s a yawning cultural divide between One Direction, say, and SHINee. Still, the fans loved SHINee, especially when the boys distributed themselves around catwalks set up above the aisles and began greeting audience members with winks and waves. Then the crowd sound turned from a baying into a sort of keening — I had never heard that exact tone at a show before.

“I was watching the show from beside the stage when the nine members of Girls’ Generation came out, in bluejeans and white T-shirts, to perform “Gee.” The whole place shouted the hook: “Geegeegeegeebabybaby.” Whenever a song ended, the Girls deployed around the stage. At one point, Sooyoung came to where I was standing and began frantically winking and waving her way through the crowd, wearing a blissful smile and shaking her glossy hair. She was no longer the cold idol I had encountered in the press room but a super cheerleader. It was just as Jon Toth had said it would be: the Girls had come to see us. But after the Girls left the stage the concert flagged a bit, and I found myself wondering why overproduced, derivative pop music, performed by second-tier singers, would appeal to a mass American audience, who can hear better performers doing more original material right here at home? The Girls’ strenuous efforts notwithstanding, the mythical mélange of East and West remained elusive.

“I headed up to the arena’s Premium level, where Interscope had reserved a box. The woman running the elevator told me that she couldn’t remember hearing screaming this loud at a show. She had put in earplugs.” Interscope records’ Neil “Jacobson gestured around the arena. “O.K., notice no one is sitting down. No one. Even up in the rafters. So, obviously, there’s a connection there.” Connection, he explained, was the essence of pop music, according to his boss, Jimmy Iovine. “Jimmy always says it’s all about the connection between the artist and the fans,” he said. “This whole business, it’s just about that connection. And, clearly, people feel that connection with the Girls.”

“There were some covers: Jessica and her sister Krystal did Katy Perry’s “California Gurls,” and Amber, the tomboy from f(x), Kris, from EXO-M, and Key, from SHINee, covered Far East Movement’s “Like a G6” — the only Asian precedent so far for the kind of pop-group success that Jacobson would like the Girls to have in America (even though all the members of Far East Movement were born in L.A. and grew up there). Acts came on and went off, changed costumes and came back on again. In between, we were treated to messages from the S.M. family. At one point, the crowd watched a slightly creepy video with cartoonish illustrations about the love that the S.M. family members feel for each other. Occasionally, the concert seemed like a giant pep rally. But at its best it elicited primal pop emotions that only a few of the greatest pop artists — the Beach Boys, the early Beatles, Phil Spector’s girl groups — can evoke: the feeling of pure love. “When the Girls came out again, Jacobson watched them closely. “O.K., it’s all about humility,” he said. “Look how they bow to their fans. That’s a big part of it.” He started ticking off the Girls’ qualities on his fingers. “First, beauty. Second, graciousness and humility. Third, dancing. And fourth, vocal. Also, brevity. Nothing lasts more than three and a half minutes. Let’s time it.” ?

U.S. K-Pop Fans in 2012

On the fans at the concert described above, John Seabrook wrote in The New Yorker: “ Standing beside me was Jon Toth, a twenty-nine-year-old white guy, a computer scientist who had driven twelve hours straight from New Mexico. Toth is a fan of Girls’ Generation, a nine-member girl group in the process of recording its American début album, with Interscope Records. At the time he stumbled across the Girls, on YouTube, Toth was an alt-rock guy; he loved Weezer. “I was definitely not the kind of guy you’d expect to get into a nine-girl Asian group,” he told me. But before long Toth was studying Korean, in order to understand the lyrics and also Korean TV shows. Then he started cooking Korean food. Eventually, he travelled all the way to Seoul, where, for the first time, he was able to see the Girls — Tiffany, Sooyoung, Jessica, Taeyeon, Sunny, Hyoyeon, Yuri, Yoona, and Seohyun — perform live. [Source: John Seabrook, The New Yorker, October 8, 2012]

“It was a life-changing experience.“You think you love them, but then you see Tiffany point directly at you and wink, and everything else that exists in the world just disappears,” Toth wrote on Soshified, a Girls’ fan site. “You think you love them, but then you see Sooyoung look you dead in the eye and say in English, ‘Thank you for coming.’ ” Toth concluded, “I might not know how much I love these girls.”

“I had arranged to meet Toth because somewhere between my tenth viewing of the Girls’ video “Mr. Taxi” and my twentieth click on “Gee” it occurred to me that I might not know how much I loved these girls, either. “Listen, boy,” Tiffany coos at the outset of “Gee.” “It’s my first love story.” And then she tilts her head to the side and flashes her eye smile — the precise crinkle in the outer corner that texts her love straight 2U. Why was watching “Mr. Taxi” such pure audiovisual pleasure? Why did my body feel lighter in the chair? It wasn’t the music — bright, candy-cane-sweet sounds, like aural Day-Glo — and, while the dancing was wonderfully precise, the choreography had a schematic quality. “They look like cheerleaders,” my twenty-one-year-old niece hissed over my shoulder one day as I was watching “Gee” again. “Uncle Pervy!”

“No, it was nothing like that. For pervy, try the J-pop group AKB48, a Japanese girl ensemble, with scores of members, who, affecting a schoolgirls-in-lingerie look in their video “Heavy Rotation,” pillow-fight, kiss, and share heart-shaped cookies mouth to mouth. Girls’ Generation is a group of preppy-looking young women in skinny trousers. When they wear hot pants, it’s to display the gams, not the glutes. “They take the love the fans feel for them, and they return it to the fans,” Toth told me. “When you see them onstage, it’s like they’ve come to see you.”

Restricted in China, K-pop Stars Focus More on the U.S.

After K-Pop was reigned in China due to comments by some K-Pop stars, the threat of K-Pop popularity and actions of the South Korean government, the K-Pop movement began looking towards the U.S. market with greater urgency. In 2012, John Seabrook wrote in The New Yorker: “In its early years, the Korean Wave didn’t feel as imperialistic to other Asians as a Chinese wave might have. But more recently, in Japan and in some parts of China, there has been a backlash from a loud minority, which may be one reason that the agencies are promoting their groups more assiduously in the West. This year, China passed a law limiting the amount of foreign programming that can be shown on Chinese TV. Hallyu, far from seeming like a benign export from a nonthreatening country, is now commonly described as an “invasion,” as though it were a sort of mental Asian carp that is clogging up the minds of the young.” [Source: John Seabrook, The New Yorker, October 8, 2012]

In 2017, Marian Liu of CNN wrote: “China's loss is America's gain. At least that's according to the legions of Korean pop music fans in the US, who are proving to be unlikely beneficiaries in a long-running diplomatic spat between China and South Korea. "China is South Korea's biggest trading partner and many Chinese are big fans of Korean pop culture," said Ellen Kong, CEO of Elf Asia, a Hong Kong promotion company specializing in K-pop. "But the impact of THAAD has been substantial," she added, referencing China's staunch opposition to the U.S. backed missile shield now housed in South Korea. "It's meant China is no longer a viable market for K-pop touring acts."[Source: Marian Liu, CNN, May 22, 2017]

The result according to industry insiders, has been a marked upswing in K-pop acts touring in the U.S. “"Around 8 years ago or so, it was very rare for K-pop artists to tour in the US, but now it has become quite common," said Paul Han, co-founder of allkpop, a site for K-pop gossip and news, which has 10 million monthly readers worldwide "Back then, K-pop fans in the U.S. used to say, 'I wish I could go to Korea to attend their concert,' but now since a lot of K-pop artists are now having concerts in New York and LA, it's more like 'I wish I lived closer to those cities' or 'I wish they would come to my city, instead of the same cities all the time'" added Han

“In 2013, there were seven concert tours in the US, 14 in 2014 and 2015, then 20 in 2016. So far, there have been 14 in 2017 alone, including the recent tour announced by K-pop icon G-Dragon, from the extremely popular boy band Big Bang. And, for the first time a K-pop band has won a Billboard Music Award — BTS won on May 21. The seven-member band toured three cities in the U.S. in March and April and finish off their sold-out world tour in Japan this July "With groups unable to tour in China due to the fallout relating to the THAAD crisis, I believe we're going to see another record year for groups touring across the U.S. this year," said CEO of Koreaboo, Flowsion Shekar, a popular content platform specializing in K-pop with a reach of over 50 million

K-Pop Conquers the U.S.

South Korea’s entertainment industry reached a new level in 2020 when film “Parasite” won four Oscars — including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay and Best Foreign film — and pop acts BTS and Blackpink became global phenomena and topped the U.S. pop music charts. The annual K-pop conventions in Los Angeles and New York were drawing tens of thousands of participants, with similar events in other cities drawing in crowds. Groups like Crayon Pop and the Wonder Girls opened for artists like Lady Gaga and the Jonas Brothers. There was even growing demand for Korean TV shows.

Regina Kim wrote in Rolling Stone: “Back in 2009, eager to share my love of K-pop with pretty much anyone who would listen, I showed a grad school classmate the music video for “Lollipop” by BIGBANG and 2NE1. He laughed and told me the video looked as if it was made on another planet, with its bubblegum colors and over-the-top costumes. In 2013, I showed friends the music videos for TaeTiSeo’s “Twinkle” and Teen Top’s “Miss Right” — and they quirked their eyebrows and smirked in mild amusement. By then, K-pop was dominating the music scene across Asia and had significant followings in Latin America, Europe and the Middle East, but Americans seemed largely indifferent. Fast forward to 2020, and K-pop is finally a singular force in mainstream American media, with groups like BTS and Blackpink winning US music awards and appearing on major talk shows all in the span of a few months.” [Source: Regina Kim, Rolling Stone, December 9, 2020]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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